Veterans Advocates Support Johnson Amendment

WASHINGTON — A longtime Wisconsin advocate for veterans praised legislation Monday introduced by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), while leading veterans groups announced their support for the measure.

The legislation would improve one of the innovations in a bill the Senate is considering to address the overprescription of opioids. Johnson’s legislation ensures that a federal task force recommending best practices on prescriptions take into account those patients who suffer both from pain and mental illness.

Johnson developed the legislation after the committee he chairs learned about the dangers of overprescription faced by veterans receiving care in the federal Veterans Affairs health care system. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has spent over a year investigating wrongdoing at the Tomah (Wis.) Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The committee has learned that veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other stress disorders are at higher risks for developing substance use disorders than veterans without a mental health diagnosis.  When veterans with PTSD and other stress disorders receive opioids for pain, there are unforeseen risks with treatment that can potentially harm the veteran.  

Johnson said, “Many Americans are treated both for pain and mental health disorders. Because of my committee’s work in Tomah, we have learned of the dangers these patients face when prescribed opioids. Federal guidance on opioid prescriptions must take these dangers into consideration. That veterans are among those who suffer from such dual diagnoses makes this reality even more urgent.” 

Johnson’s legislation won praise from Ray Boland, who served 11 years as head of Wisconsin’s state Department of Veterans Affairs.  

“I am grateful for Sen. Johnson’s leadership when it comes to our veterans,” said Boland. “The senator’s amendment to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act is just one example of his commitment to the veteran community in Wisconsin and his concern for the safety and well-being of veterans across the country. I spent a decade serving veterans throughout Wisconsin and can say from first-hand experience, legislation like this is the least we can do to care for and protect those among us who suffer from both pain and PTSD.”

Meanwhile, two leading veterans group, the American Legion Department of Wisconsin and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, announced their support for the senator’s measure.